British Fantasy Awards 2011 – On Reflection

Brighton in October

There has been considerable discussion over the past week about the British Fantasy Awards, who won them and why.

I was at FantasyCon in Brighton this year, and had a great time. The organisation was excellent, the venue worked well and it was great to see everyone there – the weather gave the whole weekend a summer holiday feel. I didn’t stay for the Sunday afternoon as I had a five-hour journey including a replacement bus service and London rail closures to negotiate and so I missed the awards ceremony, but it would be a shame if controversy over the awards overshadowed an excellent event.

Many thanks and congratulations to Marie, Paul and the whole team for all their effort in making FantasyCon 2011 a success.

The awards, though, were not a success and have culminated in the unfortunate situation that Sam Stone has handed back the August Derleth Award for Best Novel after there was criticism of the selection procedure and the method by which the books were shortlisted. It speaks volumes for Sam’s integrity that she gave back the award.

According to the rules of the society, the British fantasy Awards are presented on the basis of the votes from the membership of both the society and the members of FantasyCon, but while readers of genre fiction number in their hundreds of thousands, members of the BFS and FantasyCon number only in their hundreds.

It has been remarked upon before that the BFS has a strong bias towards Horror, a part of genre fiction which has been in decline in recent years. The fact that FantasyCon and the BFS Awards therefore have a strong bias towards Horror, and that the awards tend to go to authors known by the membership of FantasyCon who have worked hard to build a following in that group, should come as no surprise. It is a natural consequence of the process as it stands.

The 2011 shortlist for Best Novel, known as the August Derleth Award, is shown below:

  • Apartment 16 ‘ Adam Nevill ‘ Pan McMillan
  • Demon Dance ‘ Sam Stone ‘ The House Of Murky Depths
  • Leaping, The ‘ Tom Fletcher ‘ Quercus
  • Pretty Little Dead Things ‘ Gary McMahon ‘ Angry Robot
  • Silent Land, The ‘ Graham Joyce ‘ Gollancz

There are no works of Fantasy on this list. Some of them might be described as Dark Fantasy, but the emphasis is on the dark element, rather than the fantastic.

August Derleth was the person who first published H P Lovecraft. He was a writer himself and coined the term “Cthulu Mythos”. It should be no surprise, therefore, that the August Derleth Award for Best Novel is rarely won by a work of Fantasy and is usually awarded to a Horror writer. Some years there are no works of Fantasy on the shortlist at all – as was the case this year. This is not because no works of Fantasy were published, or that none of them were worthy of recognition.

After the events of this year’s awards, the BFS is at a crossroads. For its awards to mean something, it needs to reestablish the credibility of those awards and the process that selects the winners. A first step to that, perhaps, would be to openly promote the August Derleth Award as an award for Horror writers, making the de facto situation a reality.

Then people might stop wondering why so few Fantasy works end up on the shortlist, and the winners of the award would get recognition from the people who appreciate the best in Horror fiction.

  1. #1 by Mike on November 8, 2011 - 6:24 pm

    Hi Livia, Sorry for the late reply, but I’ve only just seen this. I was talking about Horror as a genre worldwide, which has suffered badly at the hands of Paranormal Romance, and I’m talking about volumes of books sold as a proportion of total books sold. Of course, the emergence of a market for eBooks may well change that landscape and allow a flourishing of new horror, who knows?

  2. #2 by Livia Llewellyn on October 9, 2011 - 8:10 pm

    I was wondering – when you say that horror is in decline, are you talking about British horror, or horror world-wide? From my perspective, I feel like I’ve been seeing more well-written literary horror and dark fiction being published in the past few years than in the previous decade, but of course I may be extremely biased.

  3. #3 by Dolly on October 9, 2011 - 6:51 pm

    I’ve been reading about this year’s FantasyCon and looks like you all had a great time. Looking forward to attending it next year.

    It is a shame about the awards, and what you say totally makes sense. Though I think because BFS members are only in hundreds (and therefore have a set taste which is unlikely to vary), if they want to keep the awards reader based, it might be worth opening up voting to general members of public. Perhaps for a short-list at least, and then judges can pick the winner. We will see what happens, but it seems logical that there should be some action taken before next year’s awards to avoid this.

  4. #4 by Anne Lyle on October 9, 2011 - 6:38 pm

    I totally agree. The problem (to my mind) is not that Sam won unfairly – I don’t think she did – but that the “best novel” award from the British Fantasy Society nearly always goes a horror novel, which makes the BFS seem unreasonably biased against >95% of the fantasy genre.

    I’ve just renewed my membership, and I for one would love to see your suggestion approved. Make the August Derleth Award specific to horror, and introduce a new award for best fantasy novel, and I think it would go a long way towards soothing ruffled feathers.

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